Croydon Tramlink: Today and Tomorrow

The Croydon Tramlink system has proved to be a success since opening over 4 years ago. In the next of the occasional series on current tram systems in the UK, British Trams Online Webmaster Gareth Prior takes a brief look at the genesis of Tramlink, its operations and a slightly more detailed view of the proposed extensions…

Before I start with this article it should be noted that it is not intended to be a detailed view of Croydon Tramlink today as that has already been done on Stephen Parascandolo’s Unofficial Website which gives you more detail than I could ever go into in just one article.

Background to a tramway for Croydon

The first generation tramway in Croydon ceased to operate on 7 April 1951, more than a year before the final tram routes closed in the capital. The way was then cleared of all the tram infrastructure so that the all powerful and conquering motor car and bus could take over providing transport for the people of South London. As we now know in the 21st Century the decisions made across the UK in the years both pre and post World War Two were short sighted and that there would be a time when traffic congestion was worse than that which was supposedly caused by the trams.

The first mention of new trams for Croydon didn’t come until 1986 when the “Light Rail for London?” study was carried out jointly by London Transport and British Rail. This study was a major look at public transport in the capital and included no less than 40 possible schemes. Many of these were planned to see the replacement of the less well patronised heavy rail lines including the line from West Croydon to Wimbledon via Mitcham (and also via Sutton) which was to become part of the Tramlink network 14 years later.

Following on from this initial large study, in 1987 a more detailed study was commissioned with the participation of Croydon Council. This report stated that the most economically viable scheme for Croydon would be a 3 line network from central Croydon to Wimbledon, Elmers End and New Addington and that further study should be undertaken. Three years later in 1990 London Transport and Croydon Council came together to promote the Tramlink project and they employed a team of consultants to look in a detailed way at the plans.

After the results of this study were received the scheme went through the public consultation process and this proved to be a success with over 80% of respondents saying that they thought a tram system in the area would be a good idea. This led London Transport and Croydon Council to submit the Croydon Tramlink Bill to Parliament in November 1991 as a private member’s procedure and this was finally approved on 21 July 1994 after the third reading. Funding was then put into place at the end of that year under the Private Finance Initiative and this was followed in 1995 by the launch of the tendering process to find a concessionaire for the scheme. This was awarded to the Tramtrack Croydon Ltd group for 99 years in April 1996 with construction commencing in the first month of 1997.

The original plan was for services to commence during November 1999 but like most other schemes in the UK this was delayed for a variety of reasons with the official opening not being until 10 May 2000 with the New Addington route being launched to the public. The other two lines followed on 23 May (Beckenham Junction) and 29 May (Elmers End-Wimbledon) and the complex procedure of getting a tram system built in the UK was completed in around 14 years (from the first idea).

A Brief Look at the Operations of Tramlink today

The Croydon Tramlink network is made up of 3 lines which all meet in central Croydon. Line 1 runs from Wimbledon to Elmers End through central Croydon, Line 2 runs from Beckenham Junction to West Croydon and finally Line 3 is from New Addington to West Croydon. What is interesting (or not depending on your point of view) is that the routes opened in reverse order of numbering. In total on all three of the routes there are 38 stops, all built to the same design including ticket machines, information stands and CCTV.

The New Addington service (Line 3) has the highest frequency with the main part of the day (0700-1900) seeing a tram running every 6/7 minutes on Monday to Friday. The other two lines have services every 10 minutes during the same period. At times outside this on weekdays Lines 1 and 2 have trams every 30 minutes with the New Addington line having double the service (meaning every 15 minutes). The service on a Saturday is more or less the same except that the peak period of the day is 0800-1830 with the off-peak service operating outside of these times as per weekdays. Meanwhile there is a standard Sunday service, which is the same frequency as that used off-peak the rest of the week. In the late evening Monday-Friday, morning and evening off-peak Saturday and all day Sunday the Beckenham Junction to West Croydon Line 2 service is extended to operate through to Wimbledon.

The routes are on the whole double tracked but there are some areas where the space did not allow for this and so single track is used. The major areas of this are the central Croydon loop, Harrington Road to Beckenham Junction and small sections on the other lines.

The trams used on Tramlink were built by Bombardier (who are part of the Tramtrack Croydon Ltd group) in Austria and are designated CR-4000, based on the K-4000 trams of Cologne, Germany. They are not 100% low floor but do have 76% of their floor space as low floor, the high floor areas being at the tram ends over the bogies. There are 24 trams in the fleet (numbered from 2530 – the last original London tram was numbered 2529) and the maximum number of these that need to be in service at any one time is 24. They are in the main completed in the traditional London colours of red and white although there have been some trams in all over adverts over the years. As this article is being written there are three trams in a “half” all over advert for Ikea.

Future Extensions for Tramlink

There can be little doubting that Croydon Tramlink has been a success for the people and businesses of the areas of South London that it serves, despite what others may want you to believe. The success has persuaded the people at Transport for London (TfL) and Ken Livingstone, Mayor for London that it may well be worth while looking at extending the system to other areas of South London. In addition they are looking at other tram system for elsewhere in London (something to be dealt with in other articles!).

Back in 2002 TfL commissioned the consultants FaberMaunsell to carry out initial development and evaluation work on a possible 4 extensions:

- Sutton – St Helier – Morden – Morden Road – Wimbledon

- Sutton – St Helier – Mitcham – Tooting

- Purley – Central Croydon – Thornton Heath – Norbury – Streatham

- Harrington Road & Beckenham Junction – Crystal Palace

These routes would use a mixture of the conversion of existing heavy rail routes, street running and also parts of the current Tramlink network.

It was concluded by FaberMaunsell that only three of these routes were financially viable. Sutton – St Helier – Morden – Morden Road – Wimbledon route was the one which had not stood up to the full financial and economic appraisals they had undertaken as part of the study. FaberMaunsell had also determined the ridership forecasts and carried out an outline environmental impact assessment as part of this initial study.

Following on from this initial study TfL undertook some internal work in order to see whether there was a strong business case for the remaining routes based on HM Treasury’s new “Green Box” formula. This internal work was obviously a success as in 2003 a second group of consultants were employed to take the plans a step further. The consultants, Steer Davies Gleave, were asked to concentrate on the Crystal Palace proposal and in addition they were told to re-examine the Wimbledon – Sutton plan but this time they were to look at the current heavy rail line in use between these two towns. This study is due to be reported back to TfL later this year.

Running concurrently to the Steer Davies Gleave study is some outline engineering feasibility work that is being undertaken by TfL themselves. This work is basically looking at the street running options and is being run in association with the various boroughs the extensions may go through. Again this work is likely to be finished during 2004.

At this stage Transport for London have not unveiled the exact alignments that the lines may well take if constructed, this is expected to come after the current study results are revealed. However it is believed that the Crystal Palace route would be replacing the current heavy rail link to Beckenham Junction and as such would use much of that line. But it is unlikely that it would be possible for the complete route to be on this track because for some distance other train services are in operation. If the Crystal Palace route is given the go-ahead it would then be possible for the single line track on the Beckenham Junction route to be replaced by double track, meaning increased service frequencies.

As this article was being prepared for publication the South London Trams Group was launched. Lambeth Council and the South London Partnership are leading the group and its purpose is to lobby for the extensions of Tramlink to get the go-ahead. They are particularly keen on lines connecting Tooting, Streatham, Crystal Palace and Sutton to the Tramlink family.

The next stage for the proposed Tramlink extensions is to see what the internal TfL street running study and the external Steer Davies Glee study have to say. If they are positive the Mayor of London would have to make the decision whether to go-ahead with any of the lines followed by an extensive public consultation (as is currently being undertaken on the West London Tram). If successful an application would be made for a Transport and Works Act Order with the earliest any extension would open being in 2011.

The Following Sources were consulted in the writing of the article

Stephen Parascandolo’s Unofficial Croydon Tramlink website

Official Croydon Tramlink website

Croydon Council website

Trams in Britain and Ireland: London by Colin Stannard & Michael Steward, Published by Capital Transport in 2002

Tramlink Official Handbook by Michael Steward, John Gent & Colin Stannard, Published by Capital Transport in 2000

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